The White Ravens Database

Presented by   Internationale Jugendbibliothek / International Youth Library

English / USA

Can I touch your hair? Poems of race, mistakes, and friendship

Latham, Irene (text)
Waters, Charles (text)
Qualls, Sean (illus.)
Alko, Selina (illus.)
Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2018. – 39 p.
ISBN 978-1-5124-0442-5

School  | Identity  | Prejudice  | Everyday life  | Friendship  | Poetry

Reading age: 6+

White Ravens issue: 2019


This small-format poetry anthology about two schoolkids is a splendid collaboration between four people. Set in the present – with a slight nod at the authors’ own childhoods in the 1980s – the book tackles the timeless and universal themes of race, identity, prejudice, and friendship. When the kids’ teacher pairs them up for a poetry project, neither (white) Irene nor (black) Charles is particularly happy to be thrown in this together. At first, they see nothing but their big differences, but over the course of writing poems about daily matters such as shoes, hair, church, the beach, etc., talkative Charles and introvert Irene discover that they have quite a few things in common. And they don’t restrict their poems to simple issues either; controversial topics, such as prejudice and fear also creep in – as in Irene’s poem “Why Aunt Sarah Doesn’t Go Downtown after Dark”: “sky / black / streets / black / faces / black / fear / white”. Accompanied by atmospheric illustrations in bright, matt colours, the poems invite readers to challenge their own preconceptions.